Engineering diversity and inclusion

Two men in hard hats are crouching on a large concrete floor.they look like they are discussing something.The American Society of Civil Engineers has acknowledged that they have work to do on diversity and inclusion within their ranks and the people for whom they design solutions. While the focus of the Special Collection Announcement publication is about educating engineers, it is interesting to see that they are taking the matter seriously and introducing a new section to their Code of Ethics. At the end of the Announcement they lament that there were no articles submitted about disability or socio-economic status and that this needs to be addressed in the future so that all aspects of diversity are discussed. You can see all abstracts to papers in this collection by going to the journal’s library link. 

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Are stairs an answer to physical activity?

Looking up a long flight of stone steps in a park. No handrails.Walkability is discussed as the solution to keeping people active and engaged in their community. I have heard it said by health enthusiasts that we “have to have steps and stairs because that is good exercise”. Well it might be for some, but not for others. A research study on stairs and older people concludes that the presence of stairs “may deter older persons (and others) from walking outdoors.” The study was a systematic review of the literature. The full article is available online from BMC Public Health. Or you can download the PDF. The title is “Examining the relationships between walkability and physical activity among older persons: what about stairs?” by Nancy Edwards and Joshun Dulai. 

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Local Government leads the way

An older man and woman sit on a wooden slatted park bench. The man is holding a blue umbrella to shade from the sun. There is another empty bench next to them. They are sitting alongside the path and there are trees behind them.It seems the need for all councils in NSW to have a Disability Inclusion Action Plan is starting to have an effect. As part of the plan councils have to be informed by an access and inclusion committee made up of residents, usually with a disability. And now the message is getting through according to an article on the ABC website.  Some councillors are taking to the streets in wheelchairs, and with glasses that mimic low vision. This moves council staff from the “tick the box” compliance list to better understanding why certain features and design details are needed. For example, why benches for sitting are no good unless they have backrests and armrests, and why footpaths need to be continuous and not just end suddenly so that you are left walking on grass. The other message from these committees is that accessibility is everyone’s business, not just the ageing and disability coordinator.  

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Driverless cars: Who really benefits?

An aerial view of a car manufacturer's parking lot showing rows of white carsThe concept of driverless cars excites some and terrifies others. But it is the technology and big business behind it that perhaps we should be concerned about. David Wilson writes in The Fifth Estate about this issue. He alerts us to the size and influence of tech giants and how they can utilise the data they can collect. He provides a table of vehicle enhancements and the time it took or is taking for the market to fully embrace them. The other factor is that vehicle components will change from the current 90% hardware and 10% software to 40% hardware, 40% software, and 20% app providers that link the two together. The article goes on to the important issue of governance. He concludes the article with, “The question is: will the loss of our familiar manual cars be a benefit for humanity, or are we heading towards an Orwellian future where a concentration of high-tech global “fangs” manipulate and control our lives, minimising government regulators to toothless tigers?”  Worth a read because this is part of the AI revolution that we will all have to deal with sooner or later and we need to make sure it is inclusive.The title of the article is, Driverless cars: benefit to humanity or road to an Orwellian dystopia?

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Update on Building Ministers’ Forum and housing

Last week, Apartment block with blue windows and balconies with plants and washing drying.The Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) met in South Australia and one item on the agenda was providing minimum accessibility standards for housing in the National Construction Code. The BMF is part of COAG. This is the excerpt from the Communique:

“The BMF agreed the ABCB Accessible Housing Options Paper (Options Paper) be used for broad stakeholder consultations about options for the inclusion of minimum accessibility standards for housing in the NCC. The Options Paper is expected to be released in September 2018, with the expectation of commencing a Regulatory Impact Statement in the first quarter of 2019.”

Kieran O’Donnell from the Australian Building Codes Board will be presenting at the Universal Design Conference in Brisbane 4-5 September. If you want to get ahead of the curve it would be worthwhile attending.

Tthe Australian Network on Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has been heavily lobbying the BMF to get this on the agenda. ANUHD will be calling on organisations and individuals to show some people-power and respond to the options paper when it comes out next month. See more in the Government News on this important topic.

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Retiring Retirement

Red Green and Yellow balloons with 100 printed on them in white.Is it time to retire the word “retirement”? Does it have the same meaning now as it did 30-40 years ago? Ending paid work, especially if it wasn’t enjoyable, makes the idea of a permanent holiday a dream come true. But is it? For those who are not the retiring type, the notion of being on holiday for up to 40 years is not something they relish. They want to keep going past the nominated pensionable age. So this area has no one-size-fits-all solutions. But one thing common to all, is having the ability to get out and about and access everyday activities and be welcome everywhere, and to have a home that accommodates issues of ageing. That is, let’s have more universal design rolled out so we can have the choice to do what we want as we age. The BBC webpage has an interesting story about a 106 year old man who continues his medical work on a voluntary basis. Examples of centenarians still working include a barber, who has been cutting people’s hair for 95 years, and aYouTube star aged 107, who teaches her million followers how to cook dishes such as fried emu egg.  

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UD makes for dementia friendly hospitals

Front cover of the documentHospitals can be distressing places at the best of times. If you have dementia or other cognitive condition it can be a frightening and disorienting place whether a patient or a visitor. Stressed patients stay longer and need more medication.Taking a universal design approach can provide a better experience. Academic research and consumer input underpins this comprehensive guide to designing dementia-friendly hospitals from a universal design approach. In Ireland, where the guide was developed, they estimate almost one third of patients have dementia and as the population ages this will increase. Of course, dementia friendly design using a UD approach is good and inclusive for everyone. The guidelines are available to read online using Issuu software. 

Below is a short video that provides an overview of the design factors that need to be considered in creating a dementia friendly hospital.

There is also a media release that provides an overview of the development of the guidelines and the project partners. 

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Access to Premises Standard and existing buildings

A Westpac bank branch in NSW country town. It is a large old two storey house with steps to the entranceMichael Small’s Churchill Fellowship report tracks and compares discrimination laws and industry practice in relation to public buildings. He questions whether the control of the Access to Premises Standard is falling more into the hands of industry as Human Rights Commission resources are becoming increasingly constrained. Three of his recommendations are: that more training is needed for industry to help them understand the standards; more flexibility is needed for building upgrades; and better systems are needed for compliance enforcement and auditing. The title of his report is, Ensuring the best possible access for people with disability to existing buildings that are being upgraded or extended. The countries visited and compared are Canada, United States of America, Ireland and United Kingdom. 

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Housing quality improves health

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor.Ever wondered what the long term effects of a home modification are? A longitudinal study from the UK shows that household improvements in social housing can reduce risk of hospital stays, particularly in older people. While the study picks up major improvements in chest and heart health, it also found that falls and burns were reduced too. Over the ten years of the study, they found that homes that were modified and upgraded correlated with reduced hospital events. That means savings in the health budget or beds freed up for other patients. Obviously it is better for occupants too. It is not clear how poor the condition of the housing was prior to the upgrade or modification relative to Australian housing. This is an academic paper outlining the methods and comparing to other studies, but the discussion and conclusions give you the take-home message – health and  the quality and design of housing quality are related and should be integrated in policy-making and planning. 

One key finding was: “Using up to a decade of household improvements linked to individual level data, we found that social housing quality improvements were associated with substantial reductions in emergency hospital admissions for cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, and fall and burn injuries.”

The title of the study is, “Emergency hospital admissions associated with a non-randomised housing intervention meeting national housing quality standards: a longitudinal data linkage study”. Sarah Rodgers et al. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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Mapping Norway’s Status of Accessibility

long view down a cobbled street to the Norwegian palace buildingHow do you know if your action plan for accessibility and universal design is actually being implemented? The Norwegian Government’s action plan to be universally designed by 2025 now has a tool to monitor progress to see how it is working. A standardised method to collect and measure data nationally has been trialled. The first results show that Norway still “faces many challenges to meet the government’s goals for Universal Design”. Data were collected on buildings and major facilities such as transport hubs, walkways, cycleways and car parks. Different techniques were used and discussed in the article, “Mapping Norway – a Method to Register and Survey the Status of Accessibility“. The authors conclude that while their system is not perfect due to the need to fully standardise and simplify complex data, they believe it will be valuable to municipal and recreational planners and developers. The article and others can be found in the Proceedings of the International Cartographic Association

The WHO posted an article in 2014 about Oslo’s Common Principles of Universal Design 2014 based on Norway’s 2025 action plan.

 

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